Waiheke Island

Famed for its hippies and nudist beaches, its boutique art galleries and cafe culture, and most of all for its eco-friendly credentials, Waiheke is a quirky beautiful little island in New Zealand’s North Island.

Waiheke is a great weekend escape for Auckland’s city dwellers and tourists alike, and each year the island hosts brilliant art exhibitions in its tiny galleries, live jazz events, and one of the nation’s top wine and food festivals. But it’s also loved for its luxury hideaways and its stunning wineries, the production of which, although small by commercial standards, regularly match up with the region’s greatest drops.

Waiheke is like the New Zealand of my childhood; there are old boat sheds which get a new coat of paint each year, roads that have well-worn dirt paths instead of sidewalks, and a sense of timelessness that the city folk back in Auckland have lost. Over the past two decades, ever since the launch of high speed ferry services, an increasing number of Aucklanders have moved to Waiheke, to commute to offices in the city or to seek a sea change – some even to join the burgeoning wine and olive oil industries.

Te Whau (www.tewhau.co.nz), with its stunning views back towards Auckland, was established in 1993 by Tony, Moira and Caroline Forsyth, with the first vines planted in 1996. By 1999 they were producing their award-winning wines, including The Point and the Te Whay Chardonnay. Te Whau is one of the poster boys of the Waiheke wine scene. With Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec planted on steep slopes over looking a deserted but postcard-perfect bay, they produce fantastic red wines and the Forsyth family pride themselves on being one of the founders of New Zealand’s sustainable viticulture movement.

We stop by Stonyridge (www.stonyridge.co.nz), host of some of the island’s largest open air events. Makers of premium organic red wines, including their Airfield claret, Luna Negra malbec and famed Bordeaux-styled Larose, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot grapes grown in organic vineyards and described as one of the top 100 wines in the world by Arcigola Slow Food, the world’s largest wine publication. Here, in the semi-al fesco dining room, we feast on anti-pasto platters of Pacific Rock oysters with citrus ginger sorbet, smoked South Island salmon, Kapati Coast cheese, procuitto and plenty of extra virgin olive oil from the island’s own groves and press.

After a day of so-so skies, the sun finally emerges, flooding the restaurant in golden light and turning the rural landscape emerald green, and I remembered instantly why I always come back to Waikeke Island.

If you’re looking to make a day of your Waiheke outing, you can check out another development with distinctly green motivation. The Awaawaroa Bay Eco-Village (www.awaawaroa.org), located at the southern end of the island, is a 169-hectare property featuring steep hill country, lush valleys and protected wetlands. More like an eco-commune, the residents of the property have been limited to 15 like-minded families, each of which minimizes their impact on the land and environment around them, adhering to both government and internal building codes that forbids toxic building materials and advocate alternative energies including solar and wind power. If you’re looking for inspiration for a greener 2011, or you just want to see what it would be like to live in a modern day social experiment, head down to the village, which boasts its own healing retreat, sailing school and worm farm.

And if you’re looking to absorb Waiheke in all its wine soaked bliss for a day or two, don’t bother heading back to Auckland; there are a range of luxurious, and green leaning, lodges on the island, including Owhanake Bay Estate (www.owhanake.co.nz). Here not only will you ride on electric bicycles, a novel way to explore the island’s galleries and boutiques, cheese factories and olive groves, but you’ll dine on organic produce from the Estate’s own gardens, eat farm fresh eggs and organic honey, and even bath in recycled rainwater. What you won’t have to do is rough it, with rooms featuring king-sized beds, wireless internet, and stunning sea views.

And for the ultimate escape, try the award-winning five star Delamore (www.delamorelodge.com), an exclusive boutique hotel that boasts four guest suites, and in September will launch its new two-bedroom suite Whareto. Each suite offers stunning harbour views, spacious bathrooms and the latest technology.

Text by Nick Walton | Photos courtesy of Delamore, Awaawaroa Bay Eco Village and Boat House and by Nick Walton

Related articles:
1. Gold (Coast) Fever
2. The New Russian Revolution
3. Experience Norway
4. Georgia: The Balcony of Europe